Thursday, May 11, 2006

ECCC Reports Progress; Mum On Criticism

Thursday, May 11, 2006

There were congratulations for countries providing judges and prosecutors to the Khmer Rouge tribunal, but little comment on the reservations expressed about some of the Cambodian legal contingent at a news conference at the Council of Ministers on Wednesday evening.

Wednesday marked almost three months since the team of UN and government staff moved into the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia premises at RCAF headquarters in Kandal province.

A lack of Cambodian support staff may mean that the prosecution’s investigations will be set back from June to July, said Sean Visoth, director of the tribunal’s office of administration.

Cambodia has an obligation and has every means to make sure that once a warrant is issued they can bring the suspects before the court,” he said.

He added that those “most responsible” for the regime’s crimes would face justice.

Sean Visoth’s Deputy Director Michelle Lee said support staff must be selected by the co-prosecutors before preliminary investigations can begin.

"I can assure you our intention and our wish is to bring them on board as soon as possible, by either the end of June or the beginning of July," she said.

ECCC officials announced to about 50 reporters and NGO offi­cials that they had briefed the dip­lomatic corps immediately before the conference on progress made toward the tribunal.

"We both congratulate the 10 countries whose nationals were appointed," Sean Visoth and Lee said in a statement distributed at the news conference.

"We also congratulate [the Cambodian judicial officials] on their appointment," the statement added.

Tribunal officials outlined the mandatory criteria that were used to select the Cambodian appoin­tees.

These include requirements that the judges have no criminal records and that they be "free from any extra influences, induce­ments, pressures, threats or inter­ference, direct or indirect, from any quarter for any reason."

"In selecting the Cambodian judges, the Supreme Council of the Magistracy followed guide­lines for interpreting and applying these mandatory criteria, such as seeking a balance between experi­ence and formal education," Lee said.

"In addition, they took into ac­count a number of desirable criter­ia, namely language ability, gender and ethnic representation, ability to operate in a modern court en­vironment and inter-cultural sensi­tivity," she added.

Some human rights and legal aid officials have raised questions about some of the Cambodian ap­pointees, such as Military Court President Ney Thol, who is slated to serve as a pre-trial chamber judge.

Officials at Wednesday's meet­ing sidestepped questions regard­ing Ney Thol and other Cambo­dian appointees.

In response to legal expert Lao Mong Hay, who asked to know which judges belonged to which political parties, Sean Visoth said there was no provision between the UN and the Cambodian gov­ernment regarding party affilia­tion. He did not elaborate.

Asked whether there was a need for some Cambodian judges to rebuild their reputations—­something that one official has said the Khmer Rouge tribunal would give them the opportunity to do—Sean Visoth referred a reporter to a list of mandatory qualifications handed out to audi­ence members.

Asked if he acknowledged the concerns raised about the past rul­ings of some of the Cambodian judges, Sean Visoth replied, "It is the freedom of expression," and moved on to another question.

Lee was similarly tactful.

Asked to clarity the UN's posi­tion on Ney Thol, whose August sentencing of Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Cheam Channy was slammed by the US and the Euro­pean Union, Lee, Sean Visoth and tribunal Chief of Public Affairs Helen Jarvis conferred quietly be­fore Lee handed the question over to Sean Visoth.

Sean Visoth then said that all Cambodian appointees had been ­chosen by members of the Su­preme Council of Magistracy, and quickly moved on to another question.

It was also announced that furni­ture, equipment, Internet con­nectivity and a backup generator had been installed at the ECCC compound.

Razor wire has also been in­stalled above and below the existing security wall around the com­pound.

The facilities for the ECCC "are by no means interior to those avail­able in other hybrid or internation­al courts, and we see no physical obstacle to the two Co-Prosecu­tors taking up their posts at the earliest possible moment," accord­ing to the statement. (Additional reporting by Reuters)


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